Amino Acids and Peptides

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Like starch and cellulose, proteins are large polymers of smaller molecular units. The smaller units are called amino acids. They consist of between 10 and 40 atoms, mainly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with at least one nitrogen atom in an amine group—NH2—that gives the amino acids their family name. A couple of amino acids include sulfur atoms. There are about 20 different kinds of amino acids that occur in significant quantities in food. Particular protein molecules are dozens to hundreds of amino acids long, and often contain many of the 20 different kinds. Short chains of amino acids are called peptides.